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$25 Guide : Bruce's 'Live' Is A Contender

November 23, 1986|ROBERT HILBURN

A guide to what I'd buy if I only had $25 a month to spend on records. This time, one purchase takes care of it.

"BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND LIVE, 1975/1985" (Columbia), a five-record set widely discounted to $25 or less.

For weeks, I've been trying to decide whether Paul Simon's "Graceland" or Peter Gabriel's "So" was the best album of the year. Though I had named Springsteen's last three studio LPs as the best works of their respective years, I hadn't considered the "Live" album--in the weeks before its release--to be a contender.

Until now, even the most appealing live albums have lacked the ambition and range of studio recordings. And I couldn't imagine a live album living up to the absorbing nature of Springsteen's concerts. So how could a "disappointing" set be heralded as the year's most prized achievement?

Yet "Live" is a contender, perhaps the contender of 1986. It's an epic statement of rock's ideals, a thoughtfully assembled and passionately performed surge of songs documenting the expansion of Springsteen's artistic vision--from the young innocent of his 1975 club shows at the Roxy to the socially conscious observer of last year's stadium performances.

More notably, "Live" sets forth a gripping portrait of a generation raised on the heady expectations of the American Dream and saddled with the disillusionment and despair of the Vietnam War, and of a growing economic division that is making a mockery of that dream.

While this vision evolved in Springsteen's studio works, none of his previous albums captured it as fully as this album.

Elvis Presley's "Sun Sessions" remains the first essential work in rock, an album whose instinctive blend of country and blues strains first defined the music's spirit and language. Numerous albums have extended that spirit, but with its richness of detail and vibrancy of heart, "Live" may come the closest to charting the journey of rock and the rock generation. CD version quality: outstanding.

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